After twenty-five years doing this, I still get stung with bad or mixed reviews. Although they don't linger like they used to, and fortunately, I've been blessed with some good ones on this 'run for the roses', still, a review of a show by a stranger who has been paid to write it for public consumption has always been a little disconcerting for me. I think that in 'these days', with the fall of the power of 'print news', I think it can be said that a 'good' review fails to really bring in that many people, and a bad review only serves to cause the cast, crew, and 'box office' to question their very worth on earth, (at least for a day or two). I remember back in the days of doing theatre in Phoenix, how awful it was to face a cast after they had just received a 'scalding'. Although many actors will tell you they don't pay any attention to critics, (and I believe some can actually adhere to this) most are devastated by a bad review. I've heard it said both of actors, writers, directors, and alcoholics, that they are 'egomaniacs with an inferiority complex'. I think there is some accuracy in this paradox. Having to go through with that first show after a bad review is an experience in itself. It's usually very quiet as everyone begins to come into the theatre to prepare. Then there is the gathering of everyone to 'deal' with the bruised egos. Then there is the dispatch of some thugs to confront the critic at home, (I'm just kidding here, even though the slashing of tires has run through my mind). That particular 'post' reviewed show can go one of two ways--either an over the top, over compensation performance, or most commonly, a lack luster performance that leaves everyone feeling worse. It might be interesting to costume a critic, bring them into the theatre on this particular night, and see what havoc they reek. I think it's especially bad on young performers that happen to be reviewed by a critic who is either, 1. Showing us his or her supreme literacy and power over the rest of us. 2. Any critic who has failed as a performer or writer 3. A critic who is clearly pathological--working out some anger or frustration brought on by a deprivation of childhood. 4. Critics that don't allow for testosterone fueled performances. 5. ANY CRITIC WEARING AN ASCOTT. Man, does this feel good! Okay, at this point, I need to admit something. A performer/writer's relationship to criticism is completely reliant on the most recent review. (the 'what have you done for me lately' rule) Another translation: Great reviews, I love critics! Bad reviews, I hate they're stinking guts and I'm getting a job overseas! Well, this is not much of a stretch of logic, after all, it stands to reason that lots of relationships can burn red hot and then freeze to death.
Again, I mention the Tennessee Williams' Memoirs. His relationship with critics in NYC contributed to his seven year depression, (he admits it was probably longer ) and says in the book that during the sixties, when he was doing his most mature writing, the critics completely turned on him--becoming even vicious in their distain. I suppose we do the same now with our celebrities, (and Tennessee Williams was a big one in the forties and fifties) we contribute to their success with our adulation, and then we destroy them when we finally expose any fault. Reading about a whole cast and crew of theatre luminaries waiting in someones apartment for the reviews to come out (in the middle decades of the twentieth century) made my palms sweat. Then, the reviews were everything. I think even in NYC, although the New York Times is still the most powerful print journalism still existing, its power has diminished considerably in determining whether a play will continue or close. With the advent of millions of dollars spent on a Broadway show, (ten million to open a musical on Broadway these days and that's conservative), advertising, public relations, and again, money, can change the equation considerably. What does this all mean? I suppose its just more rhetoric on the controversial nature of 'art and criticism'. Luckily, because I'm the only performer, I don't have to return this Sunday to a forlorn cast. And fortunately again, I've done the show enough to know that its quality theatre, and that anger burns more in me today than the loss of confidence.
Probably one of the greatest stories I ever read was that of the producer, David Merrick. He was the last of the great auteurs in the American Theatre, and when Frank Rich, a critic nicknamed 'The Butcher of Broadway' began to assert his power in the NY Times as a critic who could still 'close a show' with his reviews, David Merrick fought back. One such story is fantastically audacious. He found a man, also named Frank Rich, I believe, who lived in Brooklyn, sent a limousine, gave him theater tickets, dinner, champagne, the works. Afterwords, he ask 'Frank' how he liked the show. When this 'Frank' said, "I loved it..." Merrick took out a full page ad in the NY Times, declaring, "Frank Rich loved this show!" I love this story, because it shows you the lengths that people will go to fight back. Incidentally, Merrick also produced many of Tennessee Williams' plays.
I have to admit, just writing all of this has made me feel much better than I did this morning. To my readers, rather than ignore this review, I have to write the good with the bad, and I encourage you to read it and imagine yourself in the position of having received it--for the whole of the public to read it and 'have their thoughts on the matter'. It is a little frightening, I think you will agree. Still, the fine line between rationalizing and finding the truth is a fine line indeed, as Robert Evans is famous for saying, "There's your side of the story, my side of the story, and then there is the truth..." Austin.